While heritage railways can now be found all over the country, in the early 1970s they were still something of a novelty.

Two of the oldest are in my home county of Yorkshire, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Both were favourite destinations for family outings and school trips in my childhood.

I recently returned to see how they have changed since those early days of steam train preservation, alongside a stay in the famous spa town of Harrogate.

While the 19th century wool trade in West Yorkshire gave life to the Keighley & Worth Valley line, some famous former residents of the area and a bit of movie magic have transported it into the 21st century.

Trains tackling the climb from Keighley to the end of the line at Oxenhope pause for breath at the station sitting below the picturesque village of Haworth, a place of pilgrimage for admirers of the novels written by the Brontë sisters, who lived in the village parsonage, which is now a museum.

Just two years after the railway reopened in 1968, it provided the setting for the film adaptation of E Nesbit’s book The Railway Children, which catapulted the line into the limelight. I found that museums have now sprung up along the route to tell its story and that of railways generally to future generations.

At Oxenhope, the old goods shed is now used to display locomotive and carriages - including a ‘star’ or two from the film - while down the valley at Ingrow station, the Rail Story museums track the history of railways.

The Bahamas Locomotive Society’s Engine Shed explores steam power on the railways, while the Vintage Carriage Trust’s Carriage Works combines a display of rare coaches with a workshop where you can watch craftsmen carry out painstaking restoration using traditional techniques.

Across the county, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway has also been touched by movie magic, with railway scenes for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone filmed at Goathland station, but the village it serves was for many years associated with the small screen, as Aidensfield, the setting for the ITV drama Heartbeat. You can pop into the Aidensfield Arms, aka the Goathland Hotel, for a pint and visit Aidensfield Garage across the road.

For 34 years from the railway’s reopening in 1973, Grosmont was the end of the line for the NYMR’s trains from Pickering. The seaside resort of Whitby, which the line had been built to serve in the 1830s, was tantalisingly out of reach a few miles away, but passengers had to change for the infrequent Middlesbrough to Whitby service to reach the coast.

In 2007, the NYMR finally secured Network Rail’s agreement for its steam trains to run into Whitby, sharing the tracks with Northern Rail. The throngs of people getting on and off the steam trains at Whitby on the day I visited showed the move has paid off handsomely.

I took advantage of the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the narrow, winding lanes of Whitby either side of the River Esk and tackle the 199 Steps up to St Mary’s Church and the famous ruined Abbey, forever associated with Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

If the steps are too much of a test, the open-top town tour bus offers an easier route to the top, plus panoramic views across the town and its red Dutch tile roofs, brought back from Holland by ships that had carried coal across the North Sea.

I stayed at the Cedar Court Hotel in Harrogate, the oldest hotel in town and a stone’s throw from The Stray, a 200-acre park in the heart of the town, where horse races were held in its heyday as a spa resort in the 18th and 19th centuries. The hotel’s Porterhouse Restaurant (porterhouseharrogate.co.uk) – offers a top-notch à la carte dining experience.

The elegant town centre is a short walk away, with attractions including the famous Bettys Café Tearooms, but if you fancy something stronger and gin is your thing, just down Montpellier Parade you will find Spirit of Harrogate (spiritofharrogate.co.uk), the home of Slingsby’s Gin, just the ticket to drink a toast to God’s Own County and the golden age of steam.

The facts:

Experience Yorkshire By Steam on an escorted group tour with Rail Discoveries, from £375 per person.

* The five-day trip features 4-star hotel accommodation including breakfasts and set menu dining, coach transfers, rail travel and entrance to its museums.

* raildiscoveries.com/tours/yorkshire-steam-railway.

Call 01904 734939